Thursday, August 17, 2006


The words for niece, nephew, aunt, uncle and cousin aren’t used as often in Wolof as they are in English. This is because nieces and nephews are often referred to as one’s own children, aunts and uncles are referred to as parents and the word for cousins in Wolof really is the same word as for siblings.

On Monday, my host mother’s niece, or daughter, died, probably of Malaria, at the age of 24. My mom had spent the days before that at the hospital starting very early in the morning to support her niece and her family. After she passed away it was obvious that my host-family was very sad, though I didn’t see anyone cry except my grandma.

Tuesday was the funeral so in the afternoon I went along with my host sister, neighbors and friends to pay our respects. Everyone was dressed in colorful outfits like most gatherings, except this time all the women brought an extra shawl to cover their heads, shoulders and their faces if they found the tears to difficult to fight off. When we arrived, people were eating lunch and sitting around the compound talking in hushed tones. I was brought into a room where I found several women including my aunt and my dad’s second wife. When everyone finished eating they washed up and took turns praying. When the prayers were finished we sat quietly, silently for well over an hour. During this time I was fighting back the urge to stand up at yell about how preventable this terribly early death was. So many people here (including my host family and neighbors) have mosquito nets but don’t always use them because they find it hard to sleep with them. During the rainy season - now - especially, the mosquitoes are so thick in the air at night, people are certainly getting bit by those malaria-carrying mosquitoes that are mainly active between 10pm and 2am.

In the middle of this silence a man came into the courtyard, maybe an Imam, Marabout (Islamic religious leaders) or a griot (the traditional public speaker), I’m not sure because I couldn’t see him. The man started yelling and chanting and with this the weeping and wailing started. It was like a wave coming over everyone, starting outside, women started crying and screaming, some were weeping so uncontrollably they were carried into the room adjoining the one I was in, to calm down. The women in the room with me started to cry, covering their faces with their shawls so no one could see. After several minutes, the man stopped talking and we were left in relative silence again for another long while, soft weeping and sniffles the only sounds in the entire compound - filled with well over 100 people.

At some point, I’m not sure what cued it, people started to chatter quietly again. At this point many of us left but my mom and her family stayed and has spent their days there for the past several days, probably cooking for and caring for their sister who has lost her daughter.
In the past couple days I have been noticing many of the people around me coughing and having general cold symptoms. Today my neighbor, Umi, was feeling too sick to prepare lunch for her grandchildren, or roast peanuts to sell like she normally does. The season for Malaria has now started and I can only hope that people might listen to me when I talk about mosquito nets and it won’t take anyone else close to me and my family.

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